Social Media Trolls and Why They Exist

Attack of the Trolls

A troll (on a message board, discussion group, or other social media) is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages/pictures on a forum with the intent of provoking frustration, grief and/or anger out of people, derail discussion, or simply to disrupt the basic order at hand.  Because trolls take away from productive discussion, the standard response is to starve the troll of attention by ignoring it and going about your usual business.  A troll is generally interested to only make other forum members look stupid.  A troll will sometimes use insults to provoke other people to insult him.  A really devious troll will complain to administrators of being insulted and then request that his opponents get banned from further discussion.  Sometimes a troll will be adept in spinning conflicting information, questioning in an insincere mannerflame wars, insulting people, turning people against each other, & harassing people.  A troll can come off as super angry or super cool.  It is probable that, for the troll, the last point is the most important.  To this end it will post deliberately inflammatory messages which generate inflammatory responses; complain about being the victim of the inflammatory responses; endeavor to obtain allies against the discrimination it feels; turn on those same allies, etc.  The whole objective of the exercise is to disrupt or make someone do something they wanted them to do for laughs.

Some people engage in Troll-on-Troll Combat.

In this strange sport the objective is to turn the tables on the troll so that it is he who becomes enraged.  While amusing at times, it’s rarely successful in driving the troll away.  Most importantly, trolls take away from productive discussion.   It should be noted that there’s a such thing as smart trolls and dumb trolls. Dumb trolls usually don’t last long; ignoring them will kill their joy.  Dumb trolls, sometimes are so dumb they actually TRY to get banned (on message boards/groups).  Smart ones, however, are the ones who know the rules and guidelines, know how to properly ride them without getting kicked or banned, can be reasoned with, and ultimately know how (or when) to stop trolling.  These are the trolls who lasts on forums, can be funny, comical or entertaining, and are actually fully capable members of the forum community.  Pretty much, these guys are loveable assholes.  It is important to note that a troll doesn’t always resort to insults.  Some of them pretend to hold ideals that are unpopular on a particular website or forum, just for shits and giggles.  And for a troll, giggles always follows shits.

The best way to spot a troll is to take into consideration how long its posts are.  If its posts are short and simple then more than likely you are dealing with a troll.  A good troll also doesn’t show any signs of anger in their posts so it would be best to keep an eye out for that too.  On social networking sites it is much easier to spot trolls.  The first way is to look at their profile:  if the user has no picture of him/herself then it is most likely a troll.  It’s also useful to take a look at how old the user’s account is.  The newer the account is, the more likely it is that they are a troll.  But also understand that these are not end-all, be-all indicators in and by themselves.

It’s important to note that the term “troll” can be misunderstood in use.  Objectively, either a person or an action can be characterized as “trolling”, and from there it’s largely situational, NOT dispositional.  While some spend copious amounts of time to be the troll… anyone can be the troll, based on the situation.

It is, of course an argumentum ad hominem (personal attack), when you accuse a user of being a troll just because YOU don’t like what they are saying or the way they are saying it.  Don’t accuse someone of being a troll just to dismiss their argument.  Just because you disagree doesn’t necessarily mean the user is trying to be disruptive, so it is necessary to measure the suspected troll against the description given in this column. 

Why do they exist?

Trolls see internet communications services as convenient venues for their bizarre game.  For some reason, they don’t “get” that they are hurting or even dealing with real people.  To them, other internet users are not quite human but are a kind of digital abstraction.  As a result, they feel no sorrow whatsoever for the pain they inflict.  Trolls are utterly impervious to criticism (constructive or otherwise).  Typically you cannot negotiate with them, especially if you are their target for trolling; you cannot cause them to feel shame or compassion.  They cannot be made to feel remorse.  For some reason, trolls do not feel they are bound by the principles of courtesy or social responsibility.

Someone might begin trolling for a bit because they are sore losers.  Others?  Because they are abysmal winners.  Other trolls exist because they got hurt somewhere in their lives.  Their lives suck in real life.  Or, simply because they don’t like you.  Others are just too dumb to live.

A person who goes out intentionally trolling usually sees themselves as some sort of character of mischief; they find fun in griefing you.  Overall, they may see themselves as nothing more than a class clown.


Why does it Matter?

Some people — particularly those who have been online for years — are not upset by trolls and consider them an inevitable hazard of using the net.  As the saying goes, “You can’t have a picnic without ants.”  It would be nice if everybody was so easy-going, but the sad fact is that trolls do discourage people.  Established posters may leave a message board because of the flame wars that trolls ignite, and lurkers (people who read but do not post) may decide that they do not want to post and thus never get involved.  Another problem is that the negative emotions stirred up by trolls leak over into other discussions.  Normally affable people can become bitter after reading an angry interchange between a troll and his victims, and this can poison previously friendly interactions between long-time users.

A troll is not found without his devices. Here are some listed, which will aid one in identifying a message board troll:

Lobbing the Grenade. This is the primary device a troll uses.  A “grenade” is an absurd, highly flammable topic, made of explodium, that will without question spark high flying emotions, insults, and chaos.  This is typically something highly immoral which would shock the senses if you took it seriously.  Usually a troll’s comment(s) will be short and not well thought out… in appearance.  It’s common for a troll to lob a grenade as such and watch everyone else jump it, without ever returning to post a subsequent comment.  This can also be a Loaded Question, such as “Has [specific user] stopped beating his wife yet?”  Another example of a grenade is less targeting and general, such as “suggesting” Trayvon Martin deserved to be shot in the wake of the discovery of his death — on a predominantly black forum.  Typically, any absurdly nihilistic comment targeting specific groups of people can be considered a grenade.  The main way to identify a troll’s grenade is the think about how much stupid the statement is made of and how strikingly odd it is in appearance.

Deliberate Flaming.  Flaming, also known as bashing, is hostile and insulting interaction between internet users, often involving the use of profanity.  Inflammatory insults delivered on purpose.  Flaming, as opposed to occasional fire as a result of emotional discussions, is carried out by trolls who are specifically motivated to incite emotion by blazing the temper of users.  Trolls tend to write less professional in appearance obvious and blunt remarks to incite a flame war.

Fishing For Insults is related to flaming.  Here, a troll launches a statement, perhaps a grenade even, and are only motivated to MAKE SOMEONE INSULT THEM FIRST.  Typically, this is done to make an otherwise calm and smart poster look stupid, and/or incite a flame war with the appearance of “not being the one who started it”.

Chaotic Text Usage. PoStInG in aNnOyInG ways likez diz. This is includes, but not limited to, using foreign text a LOT in regular speak, making messages incoherent, excessive use of text message short-hand slang. Excessive CAP BUSTING is also a form of chaotic text usage. NO ONE LIKES IT WHEN YOU ALWAYS APPEAR TO BE YELLING.

Spamming is the act of posting numerous pictures, topics or posts in rapid succession.  This is also known as flooding.  Typically, a person might spam something without knowing it.  But a troll KNOWS what he’s doing and does it on purpose. Check, anti-religion trolls.  As multiple posts in a debate, this is known as “Argumentum ad Nauseam” fallacy.  As a fallacy, this is not to be confused with repeated sound evidence; this is repeating the same unsubstantiated conclusion.

Sockpuppets.  A sockpuppet is any number of multiple account(s) held by the same troll.  These are typically used deliberately to go at someone to piss them off, or used in a debate to give the illusion of multiple people “agreeing” with a person who might be the actual troll himself.

There are many other ways one may troll or grief that would take forever to list. I’ll take the time now to point out some actual real life examples:

  • Donald Sterling.  Don’t think so? Listen here.  Now, listen there.  Professional troll at large.
  • Team killers in online shooting games.  Premium trolling. 
  • The sign language guy at Mandela’s funeral.  Perhaps the greatest troll ever, fully capable of making you hate yourself for laughing at the fact that this even took place at a historical event so serious.
  • Cliven Bundy.  He is dead wrong, got random people to stack guns in his name as he stole from government, declares government doesn’t exist all while getting the support of SOME government lawmakers.  Then he ended his bromance with lawmakers such as Rand Paul by citing racist sentiments.  Trolling at it’s finest.
  • Soulja Boi
  • Kanye West. In spades.
  • Ted Cruz.  Stood for hours, filibustering… nothing.  Got his party to shut down the government in October 2013, and quickly acted as if he did NOT lobby for the government shutdown.  This is the type of guy who farts in elevators and walks off with a straight face.  Speaking of which…
  • The guy who farts in elevators and walks off with a straight face.
  • The ambiguous military picture guy in full uniform with a sign blocking his face.  A “protest” means nothing if a protester doesn’t have an identity.  This is a form of trolling.

While not much can be done with real life trolls, in social media or videogames, your best bet is to ignore them and walk off.

Photo credit: Simon Schweyer

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